Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Falling Apart

Falling Apart by Jacqueline Wilson (Text)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9781921656958
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

Despite being first published in 1994, the story of Falling Apart does not appear to have dated at all (except, perhaps, that there are no mobile phones anywhere). The themes explored in this novel: first love, early sexual experiences, depression and death are universal regardless of generation. If you suspect this book will be depressing, let me reassure you that the cleverness of the writing overcomes these heavy issues. The main character Tina is so easy for the reader to empathise with that we willingly go on her journey.

It's a grim beginning to the book. Tina has broken up with her boyfriend and is going to commit suicide. In the very first chapter she takes the pills and they begin to work. The next chapter travels back to when she first met Simon. It's a clever technique because, although we know her relationship with Simon will fail, we don't know if she's been successful with the suicide. Will anyone find her? As we read on and get closer to Tina, we hope more and more that someone has.

As well as her relationship with Simon, the story deals with Tina's considerable family issues. There is also an exploration of socioeconomic factors with the differences between Tina and 'posh' Simon. There's a lot of sex in the book (most of it in a cemetery!) and this may influence the age of reader. It's a book for girls, probably fifteen and upwards. Written in third person, the voice of Tina is so strong that the reader keenly feels her humiliation and sadness. Just a warning: keep a box of tissues handy. This one is a tear jerker!

Jacqueline Wilson lives in the UK and has sold over thirty million copies of her books worldwide. She has won several awards for her many novels for children and young adults. 

Saturday, 28 May 2011

The Midnight Palace

The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafơ(Text)
PB RRP $22.95
ISBN 9781921656941
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

This rather dark tale for young adults is set amongst crumbling old colonial buildings in the heart of Calcutta. Set in the early 1930s, The Midnight Palace is quite Gothic in feel; the place is as much a character as any of the human ones. The Midnight Palace was first published in 1994 in Spanish and was the second in a series. The first book, The Prince of Mist, was written two years before with completely different characters and setting. There is a foreword from the author at the beginning of this 2011published translation, inviting readers of any age (not just young adult) to read his story.

Twins, Ben and Sheere, are separated at birth after the dramatic death of their mother.  Ben grows up in an orphanage, while his sister travels around the country with her grandmother. When Ben is fifteen, he  meets Sheere who tells him about their father,  a brilliant engineer who died in a fire at a grand railway station he had built. Ben introduces Sheere to his friends in the Chowbar society who  meet at an evocatively run-down old mansion called the Midnight Palace. They all become involved in the increasingly dangerous quest to find out about an evil man called Jawahal who has vowed to hunt down and kill both Ben and Sheere.  

A narration, written by one of the characters much later on in life, bookends the main story. The voice is of an elderly man reflecting on what happened. The dialogue of the teenage characters is very much needed to lift the seriousness of this tone. The many characters are sketched more by telling than showing and the lack of development of particularly the main characters could distance some of the readers. The descriptions of the Midnight Palace, the old ruined railway station and the father's castle-like house are strong and invoke a dark mood and sense of foreboding. Much of the story is set at night and the weather reflects the drama of the story.

There a sense of magic in The Midnight Palace and a surprising twist towards the end of the story leads us to an appropriate conclusion. 

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That: Show Me the Honey

Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That: Show Me the Honey by Tish Rabe and illustrated by Christopher Moroney (Random House)
PB RRP $8.95
ISBN 978-0-8575-1042-6  
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

Show Me the Honey is a book for younger early readers with a well-loved character. The Cat in the Hat continues to engage fresh fans with his new TV series. Each episode has the Cat going on adventures and explaining how various things work. These books are based on this neat format, offering facts disguised as clever rhymes.

Show Me the Honey takes the reader on a journey on how honey is made. Nick and Sally are kids who’ve just run out of honey. Luckily the Cat in the Hat has an invitation to Queen Bee Priscilla’s Buzzoo, a party that’s just for bees. With a little help from Things One and Two, the kids and the Cat become honourable bees for the day.

Fans of Dr Suess’ original books will be pleased to know that the trademark humour and rhythm remains intact here. The fun of words is contagious and will carry early readers along nicely. The illustrations have been kept old-school, with simple and classic drawings.

Kids will adore these books. There are many more in the series. Adults who grew up on Dr Suess may want to read with their kids too. Recommended for ages 6 and up.   

Sunday, 22 May 2011

The Warrior Sheep Go West

The Warrior Sheep Go West by Christine & Christopher Russell (Hardie Grant Egmont)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 978-1-4052-4377-3
Reviewed by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang

“They only went into the barn to get out of the rain. But that just goes to show that big adventures can start where you least expect them.” What a fantastic first line, and I am happy to say the precise and humorous writing did not stop there.

The Warrior Sheep Go West is the sequel to The Quest of the Warrior Sheep. This is a very enjoyable book, for me and my 8 and 9-year-old children.

The story centres on a pack of rare breed sheep, which usually reside with their owners Tod and Gran in Eppingham (UK). They are adventure-loving sheep, each endowed with a different talent/intelligence. One sheep knows all the songs of old, one understands humans, another is a rap singing sheep constantly creating verse for them all to sing. There are large doses of humour throughout such as tumble weed described as “organic barbed wire”. There is also plenty of adventure. Humans feature as kind, evil and just plain dumb.

In this adventure the sheep face the frightening challenge of “Red Tongue” a long sung of enemy that will rise one day in the west and threaten all of sheep kind. The Warrior sheep take on all manner of challenges – computers, flying from the UK to USA, the dessert and in particular a mad scientist. The result is a page turning, fun adventure. The story relating to the sheep and their owners run parallel throughout the book until the spectacular and thrilling end. The structure is fantastic and adds to the adventure. A very good writing sample that kids will enjoy.

The book is well written, with careful descriptions, use of imagery and language – highly recommended. 

Friday, 20 May 2011

Kensuke’s Kingdom

Kensuke’s Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Michael Foreman (Hardie Grant Egmont)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 978-1-4052-4856-3
Reviewed by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang

I picked this book for the title – Kensuke’s Kingdom. I gravitate towards Asian titles/influences and in general it has paid off, think Samurai Kids and Dragon Keeper recently. Kensuke’s Kingdom turned out to be a wonderful, enthralling read that I could not put down. This book is at the top of the highly recommended list. In fact I am looking forward to reading it again – a bit slower this time – if only I could get it back off my children!

I will make a full admission of my ignorance here - when I picked up this book I had no idea of its history. Michael Morpurgo has written over 40 books and won the Whitbread Award, the Smarties Award, the Circle of Gold Award, the Children’s Book Award and has been short-listed for the Carnegie Medal four times. This is one of Michael Morpurgo’s best selling books and I can see why. It is brilliant.

This book is a page turning adventure. Michael is an 11-year-old boy who gets lost at sea with his dog. They are rescued by a mysterious Japanese elder and live together on an island amongst the Orangutans and Gibbons. This book has all the makings of a grand tale of adventure – a boy, his dog, a near deserted island, forests, wilderness, mosquitoes that eat Michael alive, a desperate search for water/survival, loneliness and friendship.

This is a re-release of Kensuke’s Kingdom including full colour artwork by the original illustrator, Michael Foreman. The colour and graphics do add to the story. They are gentle, well placed illustrations that add to the feel and beauty of the story.

Only read this book if you have a day free, as you will not be able to put it down. I highly recommend Kensuke’s Kingdom.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Mole Hunt—The Maximus Black Files: book 1

Mole Hunt—The Maximus Black Files: book 1 by Paul Collins (Ford St Publishing) 
PB RRP $19.95 
ISBN: 9-781-921-665-2-64
Reviewed by Jenny Mounfield

In a future far away—really, really far—the galaxy is a vastly different place where cities float, bodies are regenerated at will and human-kind has invented even more ways to torture and kill itself.

Eighteen year-old Maximus Black works for galactic law enforcement agency, RIM. In short, he’s a highly-trained killing machine who makes Hannibal Lector look like Goldilocks. And like Lector, he’s a sociopathic psychopath. He is also a mole with his own agenda. At age six, Black witnessed the murder of his parents by slavers and has made it his life’s goal to exact revenge on the galaxy for the wrongs done to him. The plan: to get his hands on a massive cache of Old Empire weapons. Whoever has possession of these weapons controls the galaxy.

Like Black. Anneke Longshadow is also an orphaned rimmer (RIM agent). Unlike Black, she has a conscience. When she learns a mole has infiltrated RIM she makes it her business to unearth him. When the mole kills her uncle, it becomes personal. What ensues is a cat and mouse chase where Black and Longshadow pit wits and muscle against each other in their quest for dominance.

In the first book of The Maximus Black Files trilogy the first of a three-part code that will lead to the fabled Old Empire weapons is retrieved. Readers are treated to a viewpoint that alternates between Black and Longshadow and are expertly drawn into a plot that’s tighter than the traps these two characters set for each other. The pace would give Matthew Reilly a nose bleed, and the attention to technological detail is impressive to say the least: I don’t know how much fact is woven throughout the narrative, but it all has a ring of truth and that’s what counts.

Without a doubt, Collins is a master of the SF genre. But unlike some SF authors his complex world-building hasn’t been at the expense of his characters. Though most are thoroughly loathsome, particularly Black, they are all multi-layered and compelling. My head spins at the scope of this book, which at its core is about loss and fear, good and evil—and all that falls in between. Highly recommended not just for kids 12+, but for adult readers as well.

Jenny Mounfield is the author of three novels for kids and YAs. She has reviewed books for Buzz Words since ’06, and more recently for, The Compulsive Reader: www.compulsivereader.com 

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Die for Me

Die for MeDie for Me by Amy Plum (Atom/Little, Brown/Hachette)
PB RRP $18.99
ISBN 978-1-907411-02-1
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

First-time novelist, Amy Plum, has delivered a gem in Die for Me, where the undead heroes, especially Vincent Delacroix, are sophisticated, elegant, noble and drop-dead gorgeous.  Set against the background of Paris, it is almost inevitable that romance and history as well as tragedy combine with this paranormal story.

Americans, Kate and her older sister, Georgia, are orphaned when their parents are killed in a car accident. Grief-stricken, they move from Brooklyn to Paris, to live with their grandparents. It is familiar territory as many holidays have been spent in The City of Light, and both girls speak fluent French. However, their grieving is expressed differently. Georgia loves bright lights and dancing for distraction, whereas Kate simply wants to be alone to read. Goaded by Georgia to join the real world, Kate decides to take her books out of the bedroom and into the café culture.  It is while sitting with a coffee at a street café that Kate first notices a group of extremely good-looking young men, one in particular, and is noticed in return. Unaware as yet, Kate has just laid on eyes Vincent Delacroix, who seems unable to tear his eyes away from her.

Soon after, while taking an evening walk by the river, Kate and Georgia witness a string of events including an attempted suicide and rescue, and a sword fight. The boys Kate saw in the café are involved, together with another couple of huge men. Frightened, the girls take off, but not before the men study them with great interest. The girls are puzzled and intrigued, but it is not until later in the story that the significance of this incident is made plain.

When Kate next sees Vincent, her destiny is sealed.  Kate’s journey to true love is a bewildering and confusing relationship with the handsome Vincent, and the slow realization that he is not merely a handsome nineteen year old, but someone from a different era who has cycles of rebirth on a treadmill of sacrificing his life for others. His friends, too, are in this position. Called revenants, they are not human, but immortals. In Kate’s words, “an undead-guardian-angel type of monster that runs around saving human lives.” Their enemies are the numa, whose mission is to destroy the revenants and anyone else in their path.

This is a dazzling novel mid-teenage girls will love. It’s beautiful cover is enticing; the romance is sweet; and sex is very much a far-horizon thought. The imaginative storyline has great impact, with a strong mix of tenderness, intrigue, violence and the triumph of true love. The publishing managers hope the detailed setting will have readers reaching for their iPads to probe the historical sites. I dare to say when the last word of Die for Me is read, a sigh of satisfaction is guaranteed.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Just a Dog

Just a Dog by Michael Gerard Bauer (Omnibus for Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9781862918870
Reviewed by Dawn Meredith

Mr Mosely isn’t a pedigreed dog. he’s a bitzer, taken in by Corey’s family who soon becomes a very important part of their lives, even for Dad, who struggles to communicate sometimes. Mr Mosely is part Dalmatian and part family therapist.

As Corey writes about Mr Mosely’s exploits in his diary we get the to know the joys and challenges of family life, the ebb and flow of family relationships, discord, unity, sadness and loss, joy and fun. In a series of ‘stories’ about Mr Mosely, Corey relates how the dog has affected the family dynamics for the better, how he somehow manages to keep them all together. But, as with all pets, we outlive them, and when Mr Mosely’s time comes you somehow hope that things will be different.

Bauer writes with warmth, humour and an authentic child’s voice that made this story a pleasure to read. I did shed a few tears too! Its obvious Bauer is an animal lover and keen observer of how our furry family members operate – they just want to be loved and for everyone in their pack to be happy. And when they are lying in the backyard, buried under a tree, their stories live on.

Dawn Meredith writes from the Blue Mountains and is a May Gibbs Fellow 2011. You can follow her exploits at www.dawnmeredithauthor.blogspot.com

Friday, 13 May 2011

The Wounded Falcon

The Wounded Falcon by J. P. Barnett, illustrator Peter Barnett (Wombat Books)
PB RRP $12.95
ISBN 978-1-921633-26-3
Reviewed by Jacque Duffy

A unique idea, this book is both a puzzle and an interesting story. With nearly twenty different endings and only one that is successful it is a challenge. The first few pages of the book dictate the game rules and wish you luck in your quest. The book is suitable for upper primary to high school age children; the younger may need help at first with the concept of note taking and page jumping.

It is not often we are informed that in order to read a book we must first have a pencil, eraser and a dice (which I didn’t have). A nice touch is the printing of a die on each page to simulate the rolling dice; something I found extremely useful. As you begin the book on page one like any other you are quickly told to skip to page 59 then 84 then back to 15 where you make your first decision. I sadly, made the wrong decision – several different wrong decisions actually and am yet, to find one of the three routes that lead to the successful ending.

This is J. P. Barnett’s second adventure game book and it is easily read and understood (except if like me you keep making the wrong decisions).

It is an enjoyable game for an adult, I am confident both boys and girls aged 8 – 12 would find it an enjoyable challenge. The illustrations confused me at first as they didn’t give clues like I thought they would and led me astray (that’s my excuse and I am sticking to it). Word of warning, enjoy the illustrations but don’t count on them helping you in your quest or your character may come to a grizzly end.
Jacque Duffy is the author and illustrator of the series ‘That’s not a …” learn to read books used in all Queensland State Primary Schools and one local history coffee table book.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

The Four Powers of Daren Saner

The Four Powers of Daren Saner by Michael Oehley (Scholastic NZ) 
PB RRP $15.99 
ISBN 978186439453
Reviewed by Dawn Meredith

Daren Saner lives in the future, on the spaceship Superia which has been traveling for almost one thousand years in search of a new home. But Daren also has another identity, one which will be revealed to him the instant he touches a sacred jewel, an ancient relic of Peripoli. Daren travels back four thousand years to the ancient city, where his other persona, Daren Saredes lives with his sick mother on the floating platforms of Osheanus.

The Daren onboard the Superia is always getting into trouble and the Daren living a thousand years before is no different. But, unlike his future self, the Daren of Periapoli has innate powers, as does everyone of that time, who are restricted by their social caste and limited to two of the four types of powers: earth, air, water and fire.

Daren Saner soon discovers not only does he possess all four powers,  he is the Forbidden Child and sentenced to die.

Onboard Superia, Daren has Sela and Boron as his close friends. In ancient Periapoli, Daren finds himself captive and friendless onboard an ocean going vessel with a fierce captain and cutthroat sailors.

Daren’s journey is simultaneously occurring in the past and in the future. He must solve riddles, negotiate with criminals and above all, be brave and independent. Not only is he the Forbidden Child, fighting to fulfill a prophecy, he is also the cause of a major malfunction of the master computer onboard the Superia, which is leading the ship and all its inhabitants towards disaster. Even his parents don’t believe his story.

This is Michael Oehley’s first novel and based upon an idea that had been kicking around inside his head since childhood. I’m glad he finally released it! It’s a great read, full of excitement and with all the essential elements of the genre.

Dawn Meredith writes from the Blue Mountains and is a May Gibbs Fellow 2011. You can follow her exploits at www.dawnmeredithauthor.blogspot.com  

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Jade and El-Sea

Jade and El-Sea by J. W. Dickinson, illustrated by Sandra Temple (Wombat Books)
PB RRP $18.95
ISBN 978-1-921633-24-9
Reviewed by Jacque Duffy

The screamer on the back cover of this book had me reaching for it straight away; “When evil stalks the world, even dragons have to take sides”.

This is John W. Dickinson’s first young adult novel and is the story of El-Sea, a young penguin princess and her quest to save the world. The story begins when Jade, the ‘Guardian of the Mountain of Fire’ saves El-Sea’s life. She was dying at the entrance to his hidden fortress and needed his help to find the ‘Sacred Masters of the Deep’. Ancient text from the Hall of Knowledge in Jade’s cave fortress foretells of this quest although it is understood to be a myth until things happen to Jade and El-Sea to make them believe otherwise. A rough friendship blossoms as together they face dangers both man made and of El-Sea’s natural predators.

El-Sea is not an easy character to like and I had hoped as each stage of their quest progressed she would become more likeable. Sadly she did not. Jade however is an amiable and clever dragon and after being locked in his cave for two hundred and three years prior to El-Sea’s visit is more than happy to finally have a friend how ever difficult she may be. I must admit to finding it a little odd that El-Sea found the dragon attractive rather than seeing him as a friend and partner in battle.

The book is a chapter book, with each new chapter written in close personal third person told by either El-Sea or Jade. About a third of the way through the book another character La Roc is introduced and he has his own chapters. Occasionally I found I was re-reading several pages as I thought I had missed something. On one occasion El-Sea was trapped and facing certain death at the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next she was safe with no mention of how she escaped. However the story moved on at a reasonable pace and I soon forgot questions had not been answered. It is a loosely environmental story with reference to hunters (man). Perhaps it is an animals understanding of global warming and whale hunting.

I believe it would be a good book to read in upper primary classrooms. It would create interesting discussions on the environment and on behaviour. The story has all the elements of a great story, intrigue, adventure, action, environmental issues and a touch of romance; it had me turning the pages all the way to the end.

Jacque Duffy is the author and illustrator of the series ‘That’s not a …” learn to read books used in all Queensland State Primary Schools and one local history coffee table book.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Tortall and Other Lands

Tortall and Other Lands by Tamora Pierce (Omnibus for Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $22.99
ISBN 9781862910167
Reviewed by Dawn Meredith

No wonder Tamora Pierce is a New York Times bestselling author. In this collection of eleven short stories, some intertwined, she creates a reality which is intriguing and unique, where you can’t wait to turn the next page. Titles include: The Dragon’s Tale, Elder Brother, The Hidden Girl, Huntress, Lost, Mimic, Nawat, Plain Magic, Student of Ostriches, Testing and Time of Proving.

My favourites would have to be Elder Brother, in which a tree is turned into a human and has to learn the strange ways of the rootless ones,  Student of Ostriches in which a young girl teaches herself to fight by observing all the animals on the plains where she herds goats and then fights as the family’s champion to uphold her sister’s honour and Mimic, an Ugly Duckling story of a young dragon who is rescued and tenderly healed by a girl named Ri. The two form a bond and as Mimic grows into a full sized dragon, Ri begins to hear the thoughts of birds.

Pierce writes with clarity, a distinctive voice and with a strong sense of feminism, which doesn’t grate on the nerves or seem too biased. I enjoyed all the stories and recommend the book to readers twelve years and up.

Dawn Meredith writes from the Blue Mountains and is a May Gibbs Fellow 2011. You can follow her exploits at www.dawnmeredithauthor.blogspot.com 

Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Twilight Saga: The Official Illustrated Guide

The Twilight Saga: The Official Illustrated Guide by Stephanie Meyer with contributions by Lori Joffs and Laura Byrne-Cristiano, illustrations by Rebecca Bradley, James Carey, Young Kim, Sarah McMenemy and Leah Palmer Preiss (Atom/Little, Brown/Hachette)
HB RRP $32.99
ISBN 978-1-905654-43-7
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga, a publishing phenomenon, receives a further boost with the release of this companion guide. Contained within its covers is a plethora of new material: author interview/conversation, in-depth character profiles, cross-references, family trees, exciting illustrations, and so much more.  An impressive Table of Contents has the reader spoilt for choice.

The cover incorporates silver text and red and white images on a midnight background, the colour theme of Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, Breaking Dawn and the Short Second Life of Bree Tanner, the books in the series. However it is intriguing to see other cover interpretations and illustrations of the series featured by the many international publishers outside of the UK and USA. The artwork throughout the guide is stunning and Stephanie has also included samples provided by devoted Twilight fans. It is great to revisit those of Young Kim, the illustrator behind the bestselling Twilight: The Graphic Novel Volume 1.

In a conversation/interview with fellow author and friend, Shannon Hale, Stephanie Meyer reveals various aspects of her writing journey which will help satisfy the curiosity of those who simply need to know as much as possible about the author and the inspiration for her works. Key Plot Points of each of the novels is an excellent tool, especially for those whose memories need to be refreshed on certain points of the saga. Of particular note are the sections on Outtakes – scenes edited out of the finished works – and Frequently Asked Questions.

This encyclopaedic reference is the final jewel in the crown of the amazing Twilight Series which has sold over 100 million copies worldwide. It is a tribute to the enormous creativity and depth of its author and her passion for her story, and an understanding of what her readers want to know, relish and cherish.  Each of its 543 pages and almost 100 illustrations will allow readers to once again revel in the lives of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen, protagonists in the vampire romance story of the decade.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Buzzard Breath and Brains

Buzzard Breath and Brains by James Moloney (a re-release from UQP)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9780702233920
Review by Jo Burnell

Having just finished Swashbuckler I couldn’t wait to start on this sequel and I wasn’t disappointed. Even though I get tired of bullying stories, Buzzard Breath and Brains is different.

How can a bully change his ways? Will the old friends let him walk away? Who would want to befriend someone who’s been pushing others up against walls for years? Is there another sort of bully too? One who doesn’t even know that what they do is a form of bullying?

Rex loves sardine sandwiches. One whiff and you’re gasping for breath. Tony is small, but he’s Rex’s best friend. Rex always does what Tony says, even if his stomach clenches with misgiving. You have to do what your friend asks, don’t you? Isn’t that what being a friend is all about?
When the terrible two are suspended from school for something they didn’t do, the danger escalates. Tony wants revenge.

Natalie has always thought her cousin Rex was a thug. Now she realises there is more to people than what you see. Resolving to help him, her own controlling behaviour is challenged.

Buzzard Breath and Brains is a complex tale about what constitutes bullying. It is perfect for both boys and girls. While showcasing the destructive power of physical abuse, it also looks at the insidious effect of exclusion.

A must read for grade 3 upwards.

Jo Burnell is passionate about hooking reluctant and struggling readers into the world of books. Her current project for Middle Primary students is about an Aussie hero. Her uncle Roy was a fighter pilot in World War 2. 

Friday, 6 May 2011

Let’s Go Wild: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Let’s Go Wild: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner by Sorrel Wilby, illustrated by Michelle Pike (ABC Books)
PB RRP $12.99
ISBN 9780733328244
Reviewed by Sharon McGuinness

Sorrel Wilby is well known as a reporter on the show Getaway and the magazine Australian Geographic, yet this is her first venture as a children’s author.

Writing about what you know is always great advice for a writer and Wilby does just that. Her passion for animals and nature is well known and recorded, but she now shares that passion with children aged between 7 and 10.

Written from a child’s perspective (Wilby’s son) she uses humour to engage her audience while simultaneously informing them. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is the first of three books in the series. Written over six chapters, Wilby imparts a variety of facts about what and how animals eat. A glossary at the end of the last chapter defines many of the scientific terms Wilby uses throughout the book.

I enjoyed reading many of the factual titbits, interspersed with quotes from experts in the animal field. The lively illustrations by Michelle Pike are great. However, there are many pages which are full of unbroken text – a known turn off for readers of this age group. I would have preferred more visuals to accompany smaller paragraphs of text. Having said that I never knew that rats enjoy eating the oily toenails of elephants or that the capybara (a large rodent) eats its own poo! Facts which will no doubt fascinate children.

Worth a try in a school library or for that trivia seeking child!

Thursday, 5 May 2011


Swashbuckler by James Moloney (A re-release from UQP)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9780702228254
Review by Jo Burnell

Re-releases can be dated and irrelevant to today’s world. Filled with misgivings, I opened Swashbuckler, ready to be irritated . To my delight, I couldn’t put it down.

Being the newcomer, Peter is the latest target for school bullies, but his saviour arrives in an unexpected form. Swinging on a tree rope, the mini Scarlet Pimpernel drops his sword ad loses his mask, but manages to distract the tough guys. Why won’t Anton admit he is the hero in disguise and what is his obsession with historical heroes?

Both Peter and Anton are struggling with their dads. Peter’s is a compulsive gambler whose habit loses the family home and forces them to move. Peter’s dad has hardly been seen since the move, but he reappears when  Peter’s mum comes into a bit of money.

Anton’s anguish with his dad runs deep, but he’s not telling what it is. Can he finally trust Peter with his pain? Can Peter help Anton fight the fierce dragon before it’s too late?

Coping with terminal cancer is heartbreaking, especially the physical changes that occur as the body fades away. Coming to terms with problem gambling is challenging in different ways. It is trust that corrodes, rather than the body.

James Moloney is still opening the doors to coping for kids in this timeless tale and he does it with an essential ingredient: Humour.

Jo Burnell is passionate about hooking reluctant and struggling readers into the world of books. Her current project for Middle Primary students is about an Aussie hero. Her uncle Roy was a fighter pilot in World War 2.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011


Reckless by Cornelia Funke (Chicken House for Scholastic Aust)
HB RRP $2.99
ISBN 978105294855
Reviewed by Dawn Meredith

Cornelia Funke is fast becoming my favourite YA novelist. Writing in her native German, her use of language is poetic and her sense of the extraordinary being flawlessly woven into the ordinary is at times breathtaking.

In this novel Jacob Reckless finally decides to leave his house of dusty memories and follow where his father disappeared many years ago – through the mirror in the study and into a strange and powerfully dangerous land. For twelve years Jacob sneaks behind the mirror, sometimes for weeks at a time. Unfortunately his little brother Will finds out and follows, along with his girlfriend, Clara. With disastrous results. Will is bitten and begins the transformation to become a Goyl – a man made of stone. The green veins spread across his hands and up the side of his neck. Jacob has to use everything he has learned about this world, every trick, every contact, before he loses Will forever.

Jacob’s companion is Fox, a shape shifting red haired girl, fiercely loyal to him and jealous of Clara. As the three of them travel the land looking for a cure they are tracked by the goyl who use the sorcery of the Dark Fairy to turn every human into goyl with a mere scratch from their claws and must trust a dwarf named Valiant who has very little scruples.

This is fairy tales retold, with many disparate elements drawn together to create a fascinating whole. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Dawn Meredith writes from the Blue Mountains and is a May Gibbs Fellow 2011. You can follow her exploits at www.dawnmeredithauthor.blogspot.com  

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Terry – Adventures of a Terek Sandpiper

Terry – Adventures of a Terek Sandpiper by Anne Hamilton, illustrated by Sandra Temple (Wombat Books)
HB RRP $21.95
ISBN 978-1-921633-30-0
Reviewed by Jacque Duffy

This book is suitable for independent readers and will encourage young minds to ask more questions regarding their environment and the migration of animals. The vast subject of the migration of Terek Sandpipers from Siberia in the Arctic Circle to the Australian beaches is tackled within a sensitive story.

Terry is a new hatchling; we meet him not long after his birth. He is counting his toes, 1, 2, 3, and asking how many sleeps. He has to wait till he is three weeks old before embarking on this epic journey with his father, sister and other late hatchlings.  We learn the number three is important in the life of a Terek Sandpiper. Together they fly half way around the world facing harsh conditions, and although not necessarily in the story, life and death situations are suggested giving the journey you travel with Terry a sense of urgency.

Sandra Temple the illustrator is an award winning artist with a love of conservation. Her illustrations are beautiful; they are kept soft with the use of an airbrush, coloured pencils and subtle colours. This softness adds to the sensitivity of a potentially traumatic journey the reader embarks upon with Terry.

An information page about the Terek Sandpiper (Xenus cinereous) is in the back of the book along with a glossary of words used in the story, and as a bonus there are downloadable maps available to show the path of these birds.

This book is not just for children but could also be a lovely gift for a bird lover.

Jacque Duffy is the author and illustrator of the series ‘That’s not a …” learn to read books used in all Queensland State Primary Schools and one local history coffee table book. www.jacquesartandbooks.com

Monday, 2 May 2011

Go Girl: Surf’s Up

Go Girl: Surf’s Up by C. Perry (Hardie Grant Egmont)
PB RRP $9.95
ISBN 978-192156466-6
Reviewed by Lillian Rodrigues-Pang

The Go Girl series is receiving a new injection of life. The books are being rereleased with newly designed covers, added colour and a high coverage marketing campaign is under way.

The books have joined with Total Girl magazine to run a large-scale competition and have a revamped website for members including an updated chat site with improved security (www.GoGirlHQ.com). There is also a new website under construction aimed at joining mothers, authors and child parenting experts (www.MyGoGirl.com).

Overall the series aims at producing refreshing and ‘real’ stories – no vampires or fairies anywhere. This book offered exactly that. It was a refreshing story about a young girl trying to learn how to surf, learn to trust in her friendship and overcome jealousy.

The story itself was entertaining and the girl's journey an educational one – when the main character was troubled she talked to her sister and wrote in a diary to sort out bad feelings as well as speaking to older family members. The story was interesting throughout and offered scenes involving healthy activities such as surfing, boys and girls presenting dance shows of an evenings and joint family dinners. Only when I sat down to review did I realise how much had been covered – essentially the book was a good read. I will be encouraging my daughter to read this series.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

The Emerald Atlas

The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens (Random House)
HB RRP $24.95
ISBN 978-0-8575-3019-6  
Reviewed by Oliver Phommavanh

The Emerald Atlas is a novel that will take younger readers on a magical adventure. Kate, Michael and Emma are orphans who know that they have parents. But they’re not sure when they’ll come back and are dying for answers.

They keep moving between orphanages and end up in the secluded town of Cambridge Falls. They’re drawn to the Emerald Atlas, a special book that contains many of the wizards’ secrets. One of the powers is placing photographs into the book and travelling to the time of when the photograph was taken.

The kids test this out and unwittingly fall into a trap. They’re chased by an evil countess who wants the book at all costs. The kids become determined to save the townsfolk who are under the Countess’s rule.

Stephens knows what fantasy fans want in a good story. You can see the influences of other fantasy series shine through in this story. There are many quirky characters that readers will love and hate. Gabriel is a tough and inspirational warrior. Hamish is a terrible and selfish dwarf who torments the kids. My personal favourite is the secretary, the Countess’s second in charge. The enemies here are truly frightening and no pushovers here.  

A friendly wizard Dr Pym guides the kids, especially the oldest girl Kate, who shows true grit. The kids share a strong family bond that is tested throughout. They all make mistakes but redeem themselves in many ways.
Kids are going to really enjoy this world of magic and the thrilling climax sets up the trilogy nicely. Highly recommended for ages 10 and up.